Green Happiness — love of gardening, dirt, color, peace of mind

I had a garden once that swallowed the house with living proof of heaven on earth. It was an amazing garden filled with perennials, ornamental grasses, and shrubs of every size and shape. Sweet woodruff, Sedum, variegated Euonymus, and spirea hugged peonies, tickseed, and purple pincushion. Transformed over seven years from a cement launch pad and brown-patched lawn, my garden became an urban farm sanctuary packed into a narrow 5000 square foot lot. There were several kinds of berries, fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables wherever I could tuck them. The only thing missing were chickens and goats.

This garden was an evolving canvas of ordered chaos brimming with lush green happiness. The greens were stunning: yellow-green, moss green, and dark green to name just a few. I never knew there were so many tints and shades of green. Wikepedia names about 20 greens in nature, and another 30 “notable” green colors. I planted a good many of these. While everything else died away each winter, the evergreens stayed. Some of these morphed from gold, to orange, and red against the grey Portland skies.

Sometimes early morning before work I would wander aimlessly with a cup of tea soaking it all in, listening to the stillness. This garden was a place where time stopped, and life began. All the answers to past, present, and future problems dissolved here into the simple yet miraculous beauty of growth. From toe to head I was welcomed each day into a world that I understood with all my senses, a full heart, and quiet mind.

One of the things I miss most was peering out the window to see what had changed since the last time I checked. Confirmed with a closer look, I would check again and wander the paths (with cat trailing behind at his leisure) to find a new green shoot, a tiny bud emerging, the smell of fresh earth, slug trails, misplaced tiny sedum running amok, new dandelions poking through hay mulch, and a luminescent hummingbird searching for food.

Last fall I sold the garden — along with the house — to its new owners, its new lovers. I have no regrets. I am happy knowing that if I do nothing else in my life, I have passed on a raucously joyous garden of color that includes more than 20 tints and shades of green. Proud pictures on Facebook of bursting blooms and jungle madness are a clear sign that this garden is bringing as much green joy as I experienced. I believe these new caretakers get the garden. It is beauty, life, and stillness. It is for collapsing after a hot summer day of weed-pulling in raspberry heaven, to watch the bright pink evening sky.

Recently I was missing it all dreadfully: the joy of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching the earth. I offered to haul compost and sling dirt for friends just for fun — twice in one week. This was a sure sign it was time to find a new garden to call my own. I went online and found the Urban Farm Collective. Mostly in the northeast, I was thrilled to see these community gardens are expanding into southeast Portland with three established urban farms. Apparently the collective works through a barter economy and closed loop system. The idea is for members to share labor and resources (land, water, seeds, compost, tools, etc) trading between gardens with barter bucks. (I’m still learning how this works so please stay tuned for updates).

A short email and I was a member. Within a few days I was digging in the hot sun (along with a joyful unsuspecting friend). We shoveled and cleared all afternoon, made raised beds, and sometimes just sat in the dirt like children with hands happily looking for worms. The next week I volunteered to bring a load of free Alpaca manure found on Craigslist. It was beautiful stuff: fresh green steamy piles mostly aged, layered with hay and yard debris.

Although I miss the garden I created from scratch, I now realize it is a state of mind that I carry with me. The green happiness has merely shifted to new forms like urban farming collectives and container gardening. Last weekend a friend returned the many small pots of sedum I gave her for safe keeping during my move. I brought them home to my tiny urban dwelling and arranged them around the back door. While digging and transplanting shallow roots from pot to pot, my timid cat — who lately prefers sleeping under the bed — tip toed outside to roll in the grass. Apparently he has also sensed a shift. The joy of green happiness missing from his life is now back to stay.

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Originally published at on May 29, 2015.